Out of Character

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Surprising Truths About the Liar, Cheat, Sinner (and Saint) Lurking in All of Us.

David DeSteni and Piercarlo Valdesolo have something to say about who you are and why you are like you are and who lots of others are why they are like they are. Along your way through their book, the authors hope to define “character” in a way we can understand it in our real worlds.

Their goal is heady and meaty: to teach how the social mind and your character work, to shed light on why you do what you do, and most importantly, help you get better control over yourself.

How about trying on for size the authors’ premise that what you think is right at any given time is relative? Hmmmm. They show the elasticity of our ethics and morals under seductive circumstances where our emotions trump our rational mind.

Learn how cognitive flexibility plays a role in whether at any given moment, you choose to be a saint or a sinner. Learn that your character easily fluctuates, refuses to stay static and gets out of it balance or out of character. The authors say saint or sinner describes us at different times and that future oriented ant and instant gratification grasshopper are more realistic, psychologically global character metaphors.

You probably know all the vices:  lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride. The virtues of chastity, patience, kindness, diligence, temperance, charity and humility most us strive for all our lives, or not, depending.

Many of you of a certain age will remember the marshmallow test of the 1960’s created by Psychologist, Walter Mischel. New learning for me included how intertemporal choice and temporal discounting play into our decision-making.

Believe me the studies are fascinating and, except for the marshmallow dilemma, I found unique. Curious about what makes Miss Right or Mr. Right go wrong? They expound on the falls of Eliott Sptizer and Tiger Woods. Again and again, you get to see how emotional instinct and impulses can derail moral reasoning. Bottom line, we humans contradict ourselves by our behaviors. And, as a bonus, you discover, if like me, you didn’t know, the source of the romantic expression, “other half.”

Look at some advice for gaining better control—

  1.  When making a moral decision, pause long enough to gauge your inner voice for whispers of guilt, shame or any type of unease.
  2. Be aware of factors, such as anger, that can influence your emotions.
  3. Understand that character is flexible and that out of character actions are normal.

Definitely work the read. Of course, you don’t have to read all the experiments. I didn’t.

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